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April 21, 2024

Week One NFL picks against the spread

By JONATHAN MISDARY | September 10, 2023



Ahead of the opening week of the NFL season, Jonathan Misdary gives his predictions on some of the biggest games.

Football season is upon us! For all you diehard NFL followers, we survived the dog days of acting like anyone can win the World Series (it’s the Braves — it’s always been the Braves), lying to ourselves that we didn’t already know Anthony Edwards was good (like we needed to see him score 35 against Lithuania to know) and engaging obnoxious Premier League fans by sympathizing with their poor allocation of resources (of course they shouldn’t have signed Kai Havertz for 60 million!).

Nevertheless, we’re here: Week One. Throughout the year, I’ll be making picks against the spread (the points a team is favored by or expected to lose by set by the oddsmakers) and keeping track of how well I do. I do not encourage gambling; rather, I am in the pursuit of enabling my readers to sound smart among their peers. Take my picks with the most minuscule grain of salt in these first few weeks as I get a feel for each team until you can eventually empty out the whole shaker around Week Five. 

Baltimore Ravens –9.5 vs. Houston Texans

With new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, at the helm, Ravens fans' cries for a change have finally been heard. The pivot from Greg Roman to Monken is a substantial one, and while I could wax poetic on the innovative air raid concepts and tactful use of the short passing game via checkdowns and screens, I’ll focus on one key change: first down passing.

Last year, the Ravens ran the ball on 53.4% of first down plays. This preseason, that number dropped to 42.2%. This is key, because the Ravens finished 28th in passing yards per game and team completions per game, and 29th in passing first downs per game. While they compensated with a dynamic running attack, the modern-day NFL is all about balance. 

The best offenses all boast some semblance of both running and passing attacks, and I’m sure quarterback Lamar Jackson is excited to prove that he was worth the $260 million price tag he fetched in the offseason. In five career Week One games, Jackson has logged 1,071 passing yards, 12 touchdown passes, and one interception. On the flip side, the Ravens boasted the third-best rushing defense in yards per game last year, and the third-fewest first-quarter points per game allowed. This sets up for a game script where the Texans fall behind early and are forced to throw, putting rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud in a difficult position on the road in his start. Lastly, in Week One, over the past six seasons, the Ravens have gone 5–1, winning by margins of 20, 44, 49, 32 and 15 points. Death, taxes and the Ravens winning in Week One. Back the Ravens Flock and don’t think twice.

Atlanta Falcons –3.5 vs. Carolina Panthers

Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith loves to run the ball. From his time in Tennessee as the Titans’ offensive coordinator, he has predicated his offenses around establishing the threat of the run game and supplementing it with heavy play action. This worked when he had Derrick Henry. Now he has talented rookie running back Bijan Robinson and second-year standout running back Tyler Allgeier. This should make for a potent attack that will feast on 2022’s 18th-ranked run defense of the Panthers

I am not too optimistic about the rookie quarterback, Bryce Young, as he has looked frazzled and discombobulated this preseason. I see the Falcons putting limited pressure on quarterback Desmond Ridder to make big plays and control time of possession. Panthers Coach Frank Reich is 0–4 against the spread in Week One games, and I see this trend continuing as the Falcons spoil Young’s debut and win going away.

Tennessee Titans +3.0 vs. New Orleans Saints

Call me crazy, but I don’t believe Derek Carr is a productive quarterback for the Saints. Similar to how I don’t believe in ghosts, I’m a big visual evidence guy. Carr has a limited track record of being dependable, and I’m apprehensive about the idea that he can deliver in Week One. 

Last season, the Titans went 6–1 against the spread  in games where they limited their opponent to 19 points or less. I trust that Titans Coach Mike Vrabel will have his players ready and motivated, so I’ll take the points and ride Henry to victory.

Final thoughts

Once again, I’m not liable for any damages incurred by tailing these picks. I will not post collateral for any cars or houses lost. But I will wish you all the best of luck in your fantasy football leagues and survivor pools, and I advise you all to overreact to every possible outcome. Week One is entirely predictive of the NFL season, and it’s fair to assume that we will know who will hoist the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy come Tuesday morning. 

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